When planning a family holiday it is easy to look to the all-inclusive resorts and the kid-themed adventure parks as the easiest solution to keeping all family-members happy. For a recent Spring Break vacation we decided to go old-school and look to Mother Nature for the kids’ entertainment. Fresh air, food from the sea, hours of scrambling over rocks and digging in the sand meant our two little boys crashed hard into their bunk beds, promptly snoring every night.
I know the trip from the mainland ob British Columbia to the far side of Vancouver Island may seem daunting but it is truly manageable with little ones! The trip is broken up into 3 chunks for you. First chunk: drive to the ferry terminal. Suggestion: make a reservation with BC Ferries so you only need to arrive a mere 30 minutes before your departure thereby cutting down your pre-ferry wait time. Second chunk: the ferry crossing (time easily passed by a new activity or book provided to the little ones once on board). And third chunk, the drive across the Island. The the final leg is the longest (2.5 hours) but play some good music, stick a bag of books/activities between the kids and bring a few fun printables for kids and you are off to the races! Don’t forget the scenery is beautiful. Stop for a stroll through Cathedral Grove, stretch your legs at the Coombs Candy store in Port Alberni, or enjoy a picnic beside one of the many lakes on the drive.
We pulled into Tofino and found our home for the next few days at the Crystal Cove Resort. What a wonderfully nature-based kid-friendly resort! First off left me do a happy dance about the accommodation. A log cabin (which is just cool) with a wood-burning fireplace (a rarity these days) and a kid’s private treehouse attached (you should have heard the squeals of delight). Our sons were bursting with excitement that they had their own treehouse – attached by an elevated walkway – to play in whenever inspiration hit. The treehouse was so popular our eldest practiced his piano inside (yes we were nasty and dragged a mini keyboard to make him practice on holidays). But seriously, who can complain about practicing when you are in your very own treehouse?
The Crystal Cove Resort is perfect for families. A massive playground dominates the middle of the resort. A climbing structure, swings, slides, teeter totter, and more keep the kids occupied. There are plenty of chairs for moms and dads to plunk down upon. Of course the highlight for our kids (and us parents too) was the less than one minute walk to the ocean! Crystal Cove Resort has been blessed by natural geography and has their own beach (hence the “cove” in their name). The beach is lovely and flat but the sides of the cove are made up of jagged rocks just begging to be climbed. Our boys repeatedly asked to “scramble over the rocks”. Exploring tidal pools, locating sea stars in the smallest of crevasses, and spotting camouflaged fish occupied many hours of our holiday. Our explorations became more informed after spending the morning at the Ucluelet Aquarium.
Whether you are traveling with kids or not, the Ucluelet Aquarium should be on your must-do list. The aquarium is a catch-and-release facility and they are a leader in the field. I, unintentionally, monopolized the curator’s, Laura Griffith-Cochrane, time for nearly 2 hours. She has been with the Aquarium since its infancy and her passion for marine biology is contagious. While the physical space is not large, the creatures are fascinating and the staff are overflowing with information. After a thorough hand-washing, visitors are encouraged to interact (gently!) with a number of the sea creatures. From touching sea stars to anemones, visitors of all sizes get a hands-on experience with some animals from the West Coast waters. Every few months the Aquarium releases the animals and brings in new ones. This is no simple task as the Aquarium is committed to returning every creature back to its original home. Months of thought and planning go into the creation of each display. The seasons are considered, the health of the animals is foremost, and the results are fantastic. You can be guaranteed that repeat visits will expose you to new creatures; the exhibits are dynamic!
Our highly enjoyable visit to the Aquarium was our only scheduled activity of the trip. Most of our time was spent at the ocean, on the playground at the Crystal Cove Resort or enjoying the delicious food from the many restaurants. We found a few must-visit restaurants during our visit. Enjoy breakfast (or any meal) at the Common Loaf Bake Shop. Loved their chai tea and their breakfast pizza! The fish tacos at Wildside Grill were delicious, as were the oysters and chips. And if you are looking for an unforgettable food-truck experience don’t miss the fish tacos at Tacofino. Just thinking about the Tuna Ta-Taco has me drooling! Just a heads up, the internet connection in Tofino is either non-existent or reminiscent of 1995. While it forces you to unplug (which is a good thing!) it did made me realize how much we rely on technology for navigation. Thank heavens for OnStar and the in-dash navigation system in the Chevrolet Cruze we were driving. Without those features we would have needed to go old-style and locate a paper map!
One of the features I really appreciated at Crystal Cove was the full kitchen in our log cabin! While I love a good meal out, the reality is feeding four people isn’t always the cheapest experience (especially right now as our kids are in a growth spurt and are eating us out of house and home). We stopped at the Co-Op grocery store in Tofino and bought survival food. The kitchen also provided us with an unforgettable experience: cooking live crab. When on the main road in and out of downtown Tofino look for address 900. If the blue crab sign is hanging up be sure to stop. For $12 a crab (crazy good price) we enjoyed the yummiest meal and oodles of laughs. I love crab so much I was willing to risk being pinched and cook it myself. The kids thought the whole thing was hilarious and they gobbled up the crab. I’ll admit to secretly hoping they wouldn’t like it as I could eat my weight in crab!
When staying at Crystal Cove be on the look out for a highly talented staff member named Adley. One afternoon Adley delighted the kids at the playground with his balloon creations. I have never encountered someone so gifted with balloons! I was impressed by his parrot (which perches on a shoulder) and tiger. But then he really let his creativity shine with the creation of a helicopter backpack for our eldest and a rocket backpack for our youngest. Crazy talented!
The Crystal Cove Resort offers two types of accommodation: the log cabins (4 options: beach front, beach view, rainforest and treehouse) and RV campsites. Historically tent camping was permitted but now just RVs and campers are allowed. In addition to the resort being incredibly kid-friendly, they are also pet-friendly. I loved their dog-washing station right off the beach – very clever!
As you can imagine Crystal Cove Resort is a popular destination. Their 34 cabins and 60+ camping spots fill up quickly. Over the past two years they have experience no quiet time…the resort is, understandably, hopping! If you want to bring your family for a visit, and you really should, be sure to book early. You will have an unforgettable family holiday and your kids will have a blast exhausting themselves in nature and the gorgeous West Coast of Vancouver Island.